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Southampton issue update on Virgil van Dijk

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LONDON — Virgil Van Dijk did not travel with Southampton’s squad for their 5-2 hammering to Tottenham at Wembley on Boxing Day.

With Saints winless in seven and not keeping a clean sheet in their last 11 games, the longest current run in the PL, the decision to leave him out clearly wasn’t tactical, as his manager suggested.

Saints’ manager, Mauricio Pellegrino, confirmed that it was his decision to not include the Dutchman in his squad as VVD has now not featured in Saints’ last three Premier League games, sitting on the bench against Chelsea, then in the stand against Huddersfield and not involved at all against Spurs.

That says it all.

With rumors swirling that a move to Manchester City or Liverpool could be possible in January, what is behind Pellegrino’s decision to leave Van Dijk out?

“I decided it is the best for the team. I know that around Virgil, will be a lot of speculation. This is my decision,” Pellegrino said. “The manager decides which is the best for every single game. We win lose and draw with and without Virgil and in this squad right now there are a lot of players that can play. We are used to some changes but we can use today this as an excuse.

Pushed further on if he expected the Dutch center back to leave in January, Pellegrino

“We have to wait until January because now I can’t control the market and we will see what happens,” Pellegrino added. “He is part of our club and we know Virgil is an important player for us. We will see what happens in the future.”

As rumors persist that VVD will head to Liverpool or Man City in a $80 million move — six months after Liverpool were reported to the Premier League by Saints for an alleged illegal approach as they then apologized publicly and ended their interest in the defender — it is clear Van Dijk still wants out.

Van Dijk’s halfhearted displays in recent weeks have said it all.

His manager admitted that he “can’t control the whispers and the news from outside” and insisted that Saints must wait to see what happens when the January window opens next week.

Does Pellegrino have any regrets over not selling Van Dijk in the summer?

“No. I think we try to do the best for the team,” Pellegrino said. “The board decide this to keep our best players in the club. Now this situation is a big learning for everybody and now we decide in January what is the best for the club.”

With Saints’ defense ripped apart on Boxing Day against Spurs, it is clear they need reinforcements all over the pitch.

The $80 million they could get for VVD now represents his highest price, especially if Man City and Liverpool square off against one another for his signature.

Saints need to cash in, and fast, to stop their alarming slide down the table.

Video: Fekir’s brilliant free kick has Lyon leading PSG

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Paris-Saint Germain has established itself as one of Europe’s best sides, but their opponent on Sunday isn’t playing scared against Neymar and Co.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints play to 1-1 draw at St. Mary’s ]

Lyon has taken a 1-0 lead inside the opening two minutes against the Parisians after a stunning free kick by Nabil Fekir caught PSG keeper Alphonse Aréola off his line.

The hosts could move all the way up to second place today with a victory over PSG, who holds the league lead in Ligue 1 with a nine-point advantage.

The 24-year-old Fekir has been a revelation for Lyon in his fifth season with the club, scoring his 19th goal in all competitions on Sunday.

That total has already surpassed his career-high from the 2014/15 season, when he eclipsed 15 goals.

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie injured in Schalke draw

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Look away, U.S. Men’s National Team fans.

American and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie was forced out of Sunday’s 1-1 Bundesliga draw against Hanover 96 after the 19-year-old collided with Felix Kraus.

McKennie, who entered the match in the 62nd minute for Leon Goretzka, managed to stay on the field for nearly 20 minutes before being substituted out.

To this point there has been no indication that the young USMNT player’s injury is serious.

More to follow…

Watford announces Gracia as Silva replacement

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Watford’s replacement for fired manager Marco Silva is indeed veteran Spanish boss Javi Gracia.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

The Hornets announced the 47-year-old’s hiring on Sunday, hours after firing Silva and blaming Everton’s pursuit of the manager for the club’s fall from European contender to the fringe of a relegation battle.

Watford is still four points clear of the drop following Southampton’s draw with Spurs on Sunday.

Gracia led Malaga to eighth and ninth place finishes in La Liga between 2014-16 before spending last season at Rubin Kazan.

Gracia, 47, has led promotion campaigns in Spain and has plenty of experience with perceived smaller clubs battling the drop zone.

Watford will hope the Hornets don’t reach that point after flirting with the Top Seven for the first quarter of the Premier League season.

Pochettino on sloppy Spurs draw, dismisses Malcom “rumor”

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Mauricio Pochettino knows St. Mary’s well, and the ex-Southampton boss has managed a rainy, sloppy match or three there in the past.

[ RECAP: Saints 1-1 Spurs ]

So he knows it’s possible to play well in those circumstances, leaving him feeling like Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-1 draw at Southampton on Sunday was a wasted opportunity against a struggling Saints side.

“It is temporary that Southampton are in the relegation zone, for sure they will push up the table,” Pochettino said. “It is two points we are going to miss at the end of the season because it is so tough between six or seven teams.”

[ MORE: Bertrand reacts to draw ]

So why couldn’t Spurs find their foothold? Well, aside from sickness keeping Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris out of the lineup, a bug that may’ve affected more on the team, Spurs just weren’t up to snuff.

“We struggled to play,” Pochettino said. “It was in possession, we made mistakes which allowed them to play. To win the game we should do better and play better. It wasn’t great.

Pochettino was also asked about Spurs’ reported pursuit of 20-year-old Bordeaux star Malcom, who has seven goals and five assists in Ligue 1 this season.

“That is a rumor and I don’t want to speak about it. I am happy with our squad. We are open to quality players but you know very well it is difficult in this transfer window.”